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From the Chairman

Charlie A.V. Gorayeb

Charlie A.V. Gorayeb

Chairman of the Board, CREBA Chairman, CREBA Advocacy & Legislative Affairs Committee Honorary Consul General, Republic of Djibouti

National Land Use Bill: Yes, but with Caveats

In this second part of a series of articles citing at least four major proposed bills on housing, we will train our attention to another important measure that will have a far-reaching effect on many aspects of the national economy: the National Land Use bill pending in both legislative chambers. 

The Senate left off last March with a joint public hearing led by the Committee on Environment together with the Committee on Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement and the Committee on Local Government. Concerned stakeholders were asked for comments on SB No. 7 (Legarda), SB No. 63 (Honasan) and SB No. 150 (P. Cayetano).

President Aquino was correct in recognizing the need for a NLUA as urgent. The property sector is one with him on this one; so, too, are all serious and responsible sectors who actively contribute to national development.

However, the Chamber of Real Estate & Builders’ Associations, Inc. (CREBA) contends that while the bill is supposedly designed to “harmonize the reasonable claims of all those who hold interest in the land” and provide for a “rational and just allocation of the country’s land resources”, the whole tenor of the proposed law will do neither of those but is overly biased in favor of the agricultural sector (a.ka. the Department of Agrarian Reform–DAR) to the detriment of other productive sectors.

The “Framework for Land Use Planning” sets forth four major categories of land uses for planning purposes: Protection Land Use; Production Land Use; Settlements; and Infrastructure.

All bills appear to have carefully identified and purposefully set aside a long list of lands under “protection” and “production” land uses when, in fact, agricultural lands under these categories still need to be delineated properly.

To fulfill its mandates, the NLUA must resolve the uncertainty as to where and what is the extent of the “protected lands” – which are banned from conversion – exactly. 

The bills, however, leave vague description of the lands that must be and are already devoted to housing purposes by virtue of existing laws. It must be remembered that in the basis of such laws, important investment decisions and developments have been made or are underway. The NLUA then should respect the provisions of these laws, or at the very least, provide for how it can be consistent with such laws.

CREBA views, therefore, that in order to address equally the inter-locking concerns on agriculture, environmental protection and real estate development, the bill must clearly refer to the following:

R.A. 7279, or the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA), of 1992, which cover all lands in urban and urbanizable areas, including existing areas for priority development sites, and other areas that may be identified by the LGUs as suitable for socialized housing;

P.D. 399  which limits the use of strip lands to human settlements, land reform, informal settler relocation, tourism, agro-industries, environmental protection and improvement, infrastructure and other socio-economic development program support projects; and

R.A. 7160, or the Local Government Code of 1991, which authorizes LGUs to determine land uses in their localities through their zoning power, thereby authorizing them to reclassify agricultural lands if: (1) the land ceases to be economically feasible and sound for agricultural purposes as determined by the Dept. of Agriculture; or (2) where the land shall have substantially greater economic value for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes, as determined by the LGU, subject to certain percentage limits. 

Let it be clear that CREBA definitely supports programs to ensure food security for our people, but any law must not favor only one sector: It must recognize the legitimate multiple use of land for the varied human needs in society. The private land sector pushes for a national land use plan that is correct and equitable.

If truth be told, against the millions of hectares of lands set aside for agriculture, less than 2% has been built-up. Since CARP was launched in 1987, the dismal distribution of parceled lands to farmer-beneficiaries with little, if any, basic services support, has not raised the productivity levels of the lands which end up being sold. The task of identifying the uses of lands, which in the long-term lays the ground for the future of the nation, cannot be entrusted to an agency with lackluster performance such as the DAR.

Finally, the private sector is worried because a particular provision putting a moratorium on land conversion activities still appears in the re-filed versions of the bills in the lower House. The ban shall be as good as the maps specifically delineating all agricultural lands nationwide have been completed and included in the approved national physical framework plan. This is a threat to the national economy as it may cause a standstill in the growth of the property sector thereby negating its widely recognized economic pump-priming effects.

A national land use plan is needed by this country – something that should have been in place a long time ago. If done correctly, it shall be an important and indispensable policy reference for all local comprehensive land use plans as well as project development plans in all sectors, including housing and real estate.

Published in the Manila Bulletin May 2014

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